A Response to Pilger

Ginny Brown wrote a great piece in response to John Pilger’s recent attacks on feminism entitled “Leftist Men Aren’t Born to Lead Radical Struggles”.


Importantly, Pilger is not displaying eccentricity here, but is echoing a growing habit amongst left sexists for deploying different criteria for political assessments of feminism than other radical struggles. Feminist women constantly find ourselves held to a different standard – by men who appear not to understand female oppression – than other activists.

Rape Culture and Its Real World Repercussions

Note:  This post is a slightly edited version of a Note I published to The Left Side of Feminism’s Facebook page.

As a follow-up to my recent post about the perpetuation of rape culture and rape myths being a bannable offense, I wanted to relate a real world story about why this is so important. It’s not about your political golden boy or any single case.  It’s a stance based upon real repercussions that affect real women in the real world. It’s about the way rape is excused and perpetuated by men and women who peddle bullshit

Several years ago, a football player at the University of Arizona was arrested on rape charges. He played on the defensive line, meaning he was roughly in the 6’3″-6’5″ and 250lbs-300lbs range. The victim, needless to say, was not nearly so large. The attack happened at a college house party. A young U of A student was at this party. Like everyone else, she drank a lot. She may have flirted with this football player at various points in the night. However, eventually, she had enough. She fell asleep/passed out/lost consciousness on a couch in the house where the party was taking place.

Seeing an unconscious female there, the football player decided to rape her. He took her pants off and did what he wanted to her. She reported the rape to police. When he was questioned, he first denied that there was any sexual contact of any kind. There were some uncomfortable facts, however–like his DNA inside her body–so his story quickly changed. Of course, now it was “consensual sex”. The facts–including his lies about sexual contact–were plenty enough to file rape charges. To his credit, the football coach immediately told this player to take a hike. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a good thing in a court of law; representing the University on the football team, however, is a privilege, not a right.

The case finally ended up in court. The defense used the usual “she’s a lying slut who wasn’t raped” attacks on the victim. Some of the things they presented in defense:

  • A picture of the victim taken six months after the attack. It was taken by her friends, as they all gathered to celebrate her birthday. She was smiling and wearing a tiara. This, the defense insisted, proved she’d never been raped. (Myth alert: A woman who is raped can never, ever smile again or have a single happy moment, or it proves she wasn’t raped.)
  • So-called “inconsistencies” in her story. She said at various times that she was on her back or her side when the assault began. If you’ve ever slept on a couch, you know that you can prop yourself against the back of the couch, so you could be described as both on your back and on your side. Regardless, this was hardly the earth-shattering “lie” the defense presented it as. It was a mild variation that could easily be explained by the piece of furniture she was lying on. It certainly wasn’t a lie along the lines of, “I never had sex with her…oh, wait, I guess I did since you have my DNA inside her.”
  • The fact that she flirted and danced with the attacker earlier in the evening. Even he admitted she was unconscious when he took her pants off of her. Here’s a tip: unconscious people can’t consent to anything, because they are, y’know, unconscious. (Myth alert: If a woman ever flirts with, smiles at, or, goddess forbids, actually has sex with a man, he has the right to have sex with her at any time in the future. She has given her consent to whatever he wants whenever he wants it forever.)
  • The fact that she might have moved at some point during the assault, so the attacker thought she was into it. Again, she was unconscious when he took her pants off and inserted himself into her body. What was the intent of her movement? Perhaps to try to get out from under a 250+ lbs football player? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. He took her clothes off and began assaulting her while she was unconscious. That’s not, to use George Galloway’s horrible phrases, a matter of “surprise sex” or “bad sexual etiquette”. That is rape. Period. Full stop. End of sentence.
  • Women who knew her testified that she was “flirtatious” with men. So, any man who ever wants to have sex with her is apparently entitled, forever and wherever and under any circumstances. (Myth alert: Once again, if a woman flirts with, dances with, smiles at, and has sex with one man or many men, she’s forever open to her body being used by any man who happens to feel the urge–even when she’s unconscious.)

So, what was the result? Acquittal. A real woman whose life was forever affected by a sexual assault, then devastated again by a jury who bought the rape myths. This is why I will never allow rape culture’s perpetuation here. You can peddle that bullshit somewhere else. There are plenty of online spaces where that shit flies, even Leftist spaces. But not this space. Even if that makes me Joseph Stalin.

Sexual Sadism: Face the Truth and Stop the Excuses

When you search for the term “sexual sadist”  on Google, the definition given comes from The Free Dictionary.  This links simply to the word “sadism”, which has the following definition:

sa·dism (sdzm, sdz-)
1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.
2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty.
3. Extreme cruelty.

While the term appears to be sex-neutral, we know that this is not materially true.  While there are undoubtedly females who fall within the definition, both the practice and the social understanding generally applies to males.  If you have done any research on pornography–both graphic and “literary”–the sadist is presented as male almost universally.  The female sadist is a very, very rare exception to this rule.  Since the majority of porn is aimed at heterosexual males, it follows that the presentation of the masochist or the victim of the sadist is almost universally female.  This goes back to the patriarchal concept of masculine dominance and feminine submission.  The concept that the abuse of women is not only normal, it is what women desire.

In patriarchal society, sadists as a group are divided into two:  the sadist who engages in “consensual” sadomasochistic relations and the sadist whose sadism is “forced”.  There is a refusal–even among the choice proponents in liberal feminism–to acknowledge that the underlying psycho-sexual make-up of the sadist is the same whether the sadism is “consensual” or “forced”.  Indeed, some sadists have entered into “consensual” sadomasochistic relations with the intent of killing their “consenting” partner.  Others have entered these relations with indifference to whether the partner ends up dead or not.  All enter the relations with the idea that torture, humiliation, cruelty, and abuse are sexually satisfying.  Let’s repeat that, so we are all on the same page here:  TORTURE, HUMILIATION, CRUELTY and ABUSE are SEXUALLY SATISFYING.  Torture.  Humiliation.  Cruelty.  And abuse.  Are sexually satisfying.

Indeed, the word “sadism” itself is taken from the name of the Marquis de Sade, a member of the French nobility who was known to kidnap and torture women.  He was not the first to forcibly take women to torture and to humiliate them for his twisted sexual satisfaction, nor was he the last.  He was just the most famous.  Society as a whole recognizes that this type of sadism is wrong.  What society as a whole refuses to condemn is the sadist who engages is so-called consensual sadomasochism.  This, despite the fact that the underlying psycho-sexual make-up and motivations of the “forced” sadist and of the “consensual” sadist are the same.  This, despite the fact that we have plenty of evidence that the so-called “consensual” sadist has been known to kill his female partners in pursuit of sexual gratification.

The serial killer John Edward Robinson recruited his “consensual” sadomasochistic partners via online forums meant for sadomasochistic hook-ups.  The majority of the women he tortured and eventually murdered were not kidnapped.  They were not tricked.  They entered into these relationships “willingly” (assuming that you don’t consider patriarchal conditioning of women to accept submissiveness and abuse coercive).  In the language of liberal feminism, they chose to be there.  They exercised their “agency” by making that “choice”.  And they ended up murdered and stuffed in 55 gallon drums.  As I’ve mentioned before, a friend of mine ended up dead during a “consensual” sadomasochistic encounter.  Her sadistic “partner” suffocated her to death with a plastic dry-cleaning bag.  These are but two examples of men who murdered while engaged in “consensual” sadomasochistic sex.  They are not the only examples.

When more radically minded feminists bring these issues up, they are commonly met with a couple of excuses by males who lay claim political radicalism and by females who claim to be feminists.  One is the “choice” argument.  People who argue against capitalism, racism and other “isms” because they are injurious to groups of people seem to run into problems when it comes to sadism.  Here, they will hypocritically cling to the “individual choice” argument.  Guess what? Some people choose to work for employers who exploit them.  Some people of color choose to join racist organizations like the Republican Party.  A political radical should recognize that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.  They should instinctively know that the protection of the group is what political radicals are supposed to be about.  And they will recognize these things…until it comes to misogyny.  Then, they trot out the “individual” and “choice”.

As I have written previously, some women “choose” to stay with men who beat them–even when they are under no financial constraints that might force them to.  In fact, I have male friends who have seen women being beaten in public places.   When they intervened, the women have verbally or physically attacked them for stopping the beatings.  Does the fact that these women choose to stay with violent men and even physically resist when someone tries to end the violence mean that the violence is acceptable?  Does it mean we should advocate for the violence to continue?

The other argument that is brought up is that the sadist who kills or kidnaps is committing a crime, while the sadist involved in “consensual” sadomasochism isn’t.  Sure.  That’s true, but it’s a weak argument.  Legality doesn’t make something acceptable, and it sure as hell doesn’t make it something to advocate.  The racist who doesn’t actively commit violence against people of color isn’t committing a crime.  Would a so-called political radical or even a liberal then say that racism is just fine?  Would that person not only say that racism is acceptable, but that anyone who condemns racism is unreasonable?  Would that person advocate for the circulation of racist graphics and literature?  Would that person publicly criticize and deride those who fight to end racism?  Did I hear, “No”?  So, why does this suddenly become the directive as soon as women and the male right to violate women come into the picture?

The fundamental issue behind feminist critiques of sadism has nothing to do with legality.  It has nothing to do with the liberal/libertarian veneration of individualism.  It has to do with the radical notions of improving the lot of the oppressed and exploited group.  It has to do with the psycho-sexual foundation of sadism–that torture, humiliation, cruelty and abuse are sexually satisfying.  It has to do with the cultural constructs of “feminine” and of “masculine” that tie femininity to masochism and masculinity to sadism.  It has to do with the ways those ties restrict and influence women’s lives in other aspects of society.  It has to do with the ways that these constructs reinforce rape culture.  It has to do with the ways women are kept as the sex class–open and available to both the most extreme kinds of male abuse and the everyday sexual demands of men they may not even know.  It’s not about what two (or more) individuals do in the bedroom.  It’s about how the underlying ideas endanger and limit women outside the bedroom.